Suds & salutations: Down one with your downward dog

By Brian Dugger - The Blade (TNS)

TOLEDO — Renee Small, sitting cross-legged on a mat, stretches her arms toward the ceiling, then releases a deep breath as she addresses the 25 to 30 men and women sitting on mats in front of her.

“Now is the time to unplug from the world for the next hour,” she says as soft music wafts through the inside of Toledo’s Earnest Brew Works on South Detroit Avenue.

As Ms. Small pauses, some of the participants in the Hops and Poses yoga class close their eyes and focus on their breathing; others reach for their pint or snifter of beer.

Earnest has joined a growing trend of breweries hosting yoga classes. Some of the classes, like at Earnest, allow participants to drink during breaks between poses. Others, like at Catawba Island Brewing Company, include a post-class pint in the $15 class charge. And some, particularly in Europe and Australia, incorporate the beer into the instruction. For example, participants may balance bottles on their heads as they do a tree pose or drink while performing a sun salutation.

“It’s a relaxed class. Women can get away from their husbands and drink a beer,” Ms. Small says jokingly, adding that “alcohol can help your cholesterol.”

But women aren’t the only participants in the classes. Tom Silva, a marathon runner and vice president of the Toledo Roadrunners Club, took part in Ms. Small’s class. The yoga helps him with stretching and warding off injuries during the high-mileage weeks required in marathon training. The social aspect is also appealing, but he admits that “the beer is the part that draws me here.”

No one is exactly sure where the idea of pairing beer and yoga began, but the predominant theory is that it had its origin in the HomeBrau Haus camp at the Burning Man festival in the Nevada desert. In Germany, the practice is known as BierYoga and takes place in breweries and beer halls throughout the country.

In Ohio, beer and yoga classes are popular in Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati. Balance & Brews is a Cleveland-based business that travels to breweries to host beer and yoga events that “are built on intention, inspiration, and a balance between work and play.” Registration is available at for events at Cleveland’s Great Lakes Brewing, Market Garden Brewery, and Terrestrial Brewing Company.

Some yogis make the case that the alcohol allows participants to gain a higher level of consciousness, but high consciousness attainment seems to be the last thing on the minds of some in Ms. Small’s class. Giggles break out as some of the women and men strain to get into a new position. Talking is more prevalent than that seen at traditional yoga studios.

“I have done hot yoga, and you are just exhausted afterwards,” says Julia Lark, who was unwinding with a beer with friend Bonnie King after her first class at Earnest. “This is more of a social class, but you feel like you get something out of it. I thought it was great that you could drink while doing it.”

Catawba Island Brewing Company founder Mike Roder embraces the social aspect of the classes, noting that the same group of 10 to 15 women comes to the classes, which take place every other Saturday at the East Harbor Road brewery. The next class is 11 a.m. March 31.

“People like yoga, and they like to drink beer. If you can incorporate the two, it works out really well,” Mr. Roder says. “It’s a community. People come and hang out afterward. They get to hang out with their friends and have a beer.”

It may seem counterproductive to combine a high-calorie craft beer with exercise, but as Earnest’s co-owner Scot Yarnell points out, some people would not do yoga at all if the prospect of having a beer was not involved. According to an article in Harvard Health, an hour of yoga will burn about 240 calories for a 125-pound person. For someone who is 185 pounds, the calories burned in an hour can add up to 360 calories, more than a pint of craft beer. It is not a lot of calories in comparison to running, but yoga can lay the groundwork for doing high-impact exercise with fewer injuries.

“The yoga seems to go with our demographic. People who drink craft beer seem to be more aware of their health,” says Mr. Yarnell, whose brewery also hosts weekly bike rides when the weather is warm. “The brewery tap room really has its own personality.”

April 14 will be the next class at Earnest, which holds a $10 (beer not included) class once a month. Ms. Small also teaches a class involving beer (and Bloody Marys) at Toledo’s Orchard Inn once a month.

About 30 minutes after the class at Earnest wraps up, Ms. Small gathers those still around for a group photo. Beers are put down, and the group members, many of whom have just met, squeeze together for the photo, laughing and acting as if they have known each other for a lifetime.

“One beer a day isn’t going to hurt you. Some yoga classes are really structured, but the people who are here, you hear them laughing or talking with their friends,” Ms. Small says. “People do this for fun. It’s just a fun way to spend a Saturday.”

By Brian Dugger

The Blade (TNS)

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